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BIPOC people are arrested, harassed and detained during a Grand Rapids protest responding to Kyle Rittenhouse being allowed to shoot and kill two people without any consequences

November 21, 2021

On Saturday night, about 50 people showed up to a protest organized by Justice For Black Lives (JFBL), a protest that was in response to the not guilty verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case.

The plan was to march around downtown Grand Rapids, to chant and to demonstrate our collective outrage that a white teenager can shoot and kill two people and not be convicted of murder.

Before the march began, JFBL organizers want to provide space to people to talk about how they felt after the Rittenhouse verdict. There were roughly a dozen people who spoke, addressing the double standard that exists for Black people and white people in the so-called criminal justice system. However, the loudest applause came when one of the JFBL organizers stated, “the justice system didn’t fail in Rittenhouse case, it was designed to do exactly what it has always done, to protect whiteness and property, but never Black and other BIPOC people.”

The march then woven through downtown Grand Rapids, with people chanting and disrupting business as usual – shopping and entertainment. 

Both before and during the march, there were two commercial TV stations that came to report on the protest, channel 13 and 17. The WZZM 13 story was brief, but still centered white voices. In addition, the channel 13 story said that the people who came to the protest wanted to “change the system,” when in fact they wanted to get rid of the system. Lastly, the WZZM 13 news reader said that two people were arrested, but the arrests were unrelated to the protest, according to the GRPD. 

The WXMI 17 coverage wasn’t much better, with the news reader also relying on the GRPD, along with centering several white voices over the one Black voice in the story. At one point that story states:

The protesters marched around a few blocks downtown, three of them carrying guns by their sides, but remained peaceful. “I don’t know who they are or what side they are on, but I don’t see any reason for them to be armed,” Whittington said.

It is interesting how they framed this part of the story, saying that people “remained peaceful”. What was worse is to follow that framing with a quote from a white woman who didn’t know which side those with guns were on and that there was no reason for them to be armed. 

First, BIPOC have every reason to be armed and to protect themselves, since the police can do pretty much whatever they want in these situations.The people who were carrying weapons were there to provide security for the rest of us who were marching. Why is it that white people think they can dictate to BIPOC people about safety and security? The same conversation was had last year in Allendale, after some white protestors were upset because there were BIPOC people with guns.

When BIPOC groups like Justice for Black Lives organize an action, like the one on Saturday night, White people should generally never talk to the news media. As was the case with both channel 13 and 17, white voices were elevated over the one Black voice. White people should come to offer support and solidarity when BIPOC people organize these kinds of actions. If the news media wants to do an interview with you, before you talk to the media, you should check in with the event organizers first.

Lastly, it is deeply problematic for the local news media to uncritically rely on the GRPD as a news source. Just because the GRPD says people were arrested and then claimed it was unrelated to the protest, doesn’t mean it is true. At a minimum, the news media should have talked to someone from Justice For Black Lives or those who witnessed the arrests.

What is important to note about the arrests is that it happened after the protest disbanded. The GRPD showed up with an estimated 20 cops on bicycles, in riot gear, after the protest had taken place. We have seen this strategy used by the GRPD before, since people are often more vulnerable after an action has taken place. 

In addition, there was a carload of JFBL organizers that were stopped, told to get out of the car, handcuffed and detained by the GRPD. They were eventually released, but this incident further demonstrates the ongoing harassment of JFBL organizers, supporters and anyone calling for the defunding of the GRPD.

There was video of people being detained and one person who had been arrested. One of those arrested was a Black man who had a firearm with him during the march, a firearm for which he had a permit. The other person arrested, was charged with “disturbing the peace,” which is just a vague charge generally applied to anyone the GRPD wants to arrest. 

There were also White Supremacists who had been following the march in their car. Several witnesses believe they were not only filming those who participated in the march, but that they are the ones who called the GRPD. 

One witness said:

After the police and most of the group had left the corner on Division & McConnell, the white supremacist couple drove around the block for nearly a half hour, still filming and staring at people who were waiting for rides or getting gas. The car was red, a smaller model, and had been seen multiple times following the march as well as on Division. They made several clear, violent threats towards our group and some individual protesters, which can be heard on some of the other streams from that night.

To be clear, Justice For Black Lives organized a protest in response to the Not Guilty verdict given to a white teenager who shot and killed two people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Wisconsin. The GRPD showed up in riot gear to arrest, harass, intimidate and detain BIPOC people during the JFBL protest, simply for pointing out that White Supremacy is woven into the very fabric of the so-called Justice System in America. 

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